10 Tips for Potentially Fabulous Interactions with People with Disabilities


First let me say that these are my ideas based on my experience. There are as many ideas about how to interact with people with disabilities as there are people with disabilities. I don’t want to speak for everyone. This is my personal list.


  1. Disability is a difference, not a weakness.

Disability simply means that some parts of a person’s body may work a little differently than what is typical. It doesn’t mean people are any less able to be friends, colleagues or companions.

  1. Ask someone if they need help and then wait for their instructions.

When you see someone with a disability who you think might be struggling, ask them if they need assistance before you do anything. If the answer is affirmative, then wait for them to tell you exactly what they need. Because what they actually need might be very different than you think it is.

  1. If some disability that a person has needs to be accommodated in some way, please do so quickly and efficiently.

Does a chair at the end of a row need to be removed so that a wheelchair user can enjoy a concert without blocking the aisle? Does light or sound at an event need to be adjusted so that a person with epilepsy or PTSD can be included?  Be sure to ask the person with the disability directly what they most need. Please don’t assume or guess.

  1. Treat adults like adults.

This can encompass not treating people with disabilities like second class citizens, always talking in an appropriate tone of voice, always talking to the person with the disability directly and not trying to get information about them from their companion or caregiver.

  1. Don’t take power away from people with disabilities.

Always keep us in the loop. Ask what our preferences are, and when things affect their lives, even when it is something you may think is small. If a different person from a group is going to give me a ride than I expected, then I might need extra time to tell them how to help me or how to put my wheelchair in their car. That takes some extra time so I need a head’s up that it is necessary.

  1. Get down to eye level

When having a conversation with a wheelchair user that is more than simply saying “hello” in passing, please get down to eye level. That is always going to make me feel like more of an equal and that I am not being talked down to. It is hard for me to have a conversation with anyone when it feels to me like they are eleven feet tall. So people sitting at my level is something I sincerely appreciate.

  1. If you are talking to someone who has a speech impediment, never try to anticipate what they are going to say. Take the time to let them tell you. If there is something you do not understand, go back to the last thing you did understand, and go from there.


  1. Be mindful of accessible parking. Especially spaces that are designated for vans. People who need those spots need the room to navigate with their wheelchair and if someone parks too close or someone parks there who doesn’t need that accommodation, then people with disabilities are stuck not being able to operate the van or the lift. And they have to wait for the driver of the other car to return to the spot. I’ve heard so many stories about how frustrating that is from various friends who require those spaces to park.


  1. Do everything you can to maintain the dignity of a person with a disability. If they have to be vulnerable, make sure that they are covered and comfortable. Don’t separate them from the rest of a group. Make sure they know that their voices and opinions matter.


  1. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

It is totally okay to be shy or awkward. Goodness knows that is how I feel when I am in a situation that is unfamiliar to me. My hope is that people don’t stay there. And in my case, if people let me know they are uncomfortable, I can do my best to help them move through that. All I ask is that people try to have an interaction with me. Things could work out well for both of us.